From a very young age, Alex Wrethman was drawn to the hospitality sector, fascinated by the communities that thrive around the restaurants, cafes and bistros that unite them. Now Wrethman owns a chain of eateries, each with its own personality, style, and patron community
What does your business do?
We are a high quality British hospitality group with three distinct offerings in the west London area. A restaurant, a bistro and a local hub.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Most of my most cherished childhood memories are at the table with my parents, family or friends either in our homes or in our most loved restaurants and cafés. Later, as a 14-year-old boy I would walk the long way home from school to look through the window at Charlotte’s Place and observe the staff at the table laughing and sharing a meal before evening service like a family. I became fascinated by the communities that evolve around hospitality businesses and the sense of belonging and even purpose they can engender in so many. It is perhaps no surprise therefore that I have devoted the past 20 years of my life to working in hospitality; first as a dishwasher, then as a chef, bartender, waiter and now as an independent restaurateur. When not working, I spend most of my time (and money) seeking out great places to enjoy wonderful food, drink and great hospitality provided by others. There are no other business categories I would feel more passionately about than hospitality.
How did you know there was a market for it?
I grew up in west London and I know it inside out. I worked in Charlotte’s Place for years and to be honest I just had a gut feeling that I could make it work.
How did you raise funding, and why?
I have had to raise funding three times so far and each time it was to open a new venue. The first time round, for Charlotte’s Place the project was family funded on an extremely tight budget. For Charlotte’s Bistro I had gained my parents trust and was given a second opportunity to recycle the family funding alongside additional funding from HSBC. Charlotte’s W5, the largest project of the three, I again recycled the family funding and additionally secured £1.2m from Metro Bank (secured lending, EFG loan / asset finance). For the next big project, we’re looking at crowd funding…
Describe your business model in brief.
For any concept we develop it has to sit within the parameters of the group mission – to lead British hospitality. The concept must then deliver on its mission by becoming the best in its class. The focal point of our business model is to generate return custom by having customers develop a sense of belonging and affinity with the group.
What was your first big milestone and when did you cross it?
When Charlotte’s Place was awarded 2 AA rosettes in 2009. This achievement definitively set us apart from competitors.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Be honest with yourself. You need to know whether your product is truly something innovative or whether it is another “me too”. This will be the basis of your positioning and every single business strategy you develop going forward. You have to really understand whether you are positioning yourself as an alternative or something truly disruptive.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
- To have positioned Charlotte’s Group as leading British hospitality in both the business community and in the consumer’s perception.
- To have developed great retail opportunities for our home-made food and drink products.
- To have launched at least two of the other new concepts I have up my sleeve!
What is your philosophy towards business and life, in a nutshell?
Be genuine in everything you do and with everyone you meet.
Alex Wrethman is a speaker on the Entrepreneurs Panel at the Battle of the Backers.